We live in a world which has been made microscopic by the advent of the internet and even more so by social media. For those of us who tweet, the vastness of our humanities has been reduced to one hundred and forty characters. People and their experience have been truncated to FaceBook statuses and Instagram posts. Much of who we are is subjected to “likes” by followers or “friends.” With the great majority, we share no actual lived experience. This is our new normal; and what it means to be “in community” has changed. Social media platforms are in some ways our new congregations.
As we think about our current worship communities in the technological age, we must be acutely aware that at any moment a snippet of our liturgy, or the full liturgy, may be captured online and shared across the world. In that moment the world will make a decision about who we are and what we represent. Cell phones and other recording devices abound in every congregation, at all times. It would be wise to give attention to that truth as we think through our liturgical moments.
Are our liturgies capacious enough to hold and honor the diversity of a vast audience? There are questions that must be asked of all of our congregations such as; do we still sing songs that lyrically privilege whiteness on a color hierarchy? That is not just a question for white mainline protestant churches alone. Oppression sickness has so infiltrated all of Christendom that Black, Asian, and Indigenous congregations are all steeped in hymnody that is damaging to the collective psyche. It is internalized oppression when any group thinks the same way about themselves as the oppressor. This leads to oppression sickness that causes the oppressed to mimic the oppression of the oppressor. The effort to mimic dominant culture has greatly infected many church traditions with classism, sexism, heteroprivilege and more. Unfortunately, inferior feeling groups often seek to make someone else more inferior (Flunder 2005). The result of this sickness is that we lack the moral tenacity and vigilance to self-critique our enculturated expressions of worship.
We must interrogate our liturgies to discover where we both portray and betray the Gospel message. I shudder to think of the microaggressions, microassualts, and micoinvalidations that our congregations may unintentionally be transmitting to the world via our social media and our other online presence. The church in our time must be very mindful of ideological hegemony. Ideological hegemony is descriptive of those systems of practices, meanings, and values which provide legitimacy to the dominant society’s institutional arrangements and interest (Yarber 2015). It is easy for us to become blind to our own insensitivity when we are not diligent in checking our own privilege and our own lenses.
The internet offers religion an opportunity to craft a new narrative. For far too many, religion has been the coping mechanism, or human response to the trauma of self-consciousness; designed to keep internal and external hysteria under control. Because of this function of religion as the security system of human life, many have been guilty of shaping God and worship after their own image (Spong 1998). We can change this limited and limiting portrayal of religion by creating liturgical moments informed by a theology which is a self-conscious awareness that all of us can be God bearers and life givers—and that our deepest religious task is to give ourselves away.
In this sense the church must itself play the role of rescuer by reaching out to those who seem to be marginalized and dispossessed. We human beings cannot incorporate all that we are into wholeness by ourselves; we need community. The primary task of the faith community then is to assist in the creation of wholeness (Spong 2001). Our online presence then is to be the place where each person is nurtured into being. Every facet of our liturgical process, which can at any moment be captured and transmitted to the world, must be consumed with honoring the Divine by making room for all of God’s beloved community. Ask yourself today “is my worship community ready for the world?”
Peace Is Possible,
Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Flunder, Yvette A. 2005. Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press.
Spong, John Shelby. 2001. A New Christianity For A New World. New York: Harper Collins.
—. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.
Yarber, Cody J. Sanders & Angela. 2015. Microaggressions in Ministry: Confronting the Hidden Violence of Everyday Church. Louisville : Westminister John Knox Press.